Read more: Why Schools Can’t Teach Sex Ed
The latest research teases apart whether sexting promotes more sex, or whether having sex makes sexting more likely
While plenty of studies have linked the sending of sexually explicit messages or naked pictures to a higher incidence of sex and risky sexual behavior, most of those studies didn’t follow the same children over time. That means they studied sexting habits in one group of children, and sexual behaviors in another, older group a year or so later. So it’s possible that other factors could explain the relationship that had nothing to do with the sexting.
To address that issue, Jeff Temple, from the department of obstetrics and gynecology at University of Texas Medical Branch, collected data from a group of nearly 1,000 high school students in Texas over six years. The students answered questions about dating, dating violence and other behaviors as sophomores and then as juniors. Temple then compared the answers.
Reporting in the journal Pediatrics, he says that those who sexted as sophomores were 32% more likely to have had sex in the following year than those who did not, supporting earlier data. But Temple was also able to break down the types of sexts the students primarily used, from those who actively sent naked pictures to those who only received or asked for them. Those who only received sexts did not show a statistically significant higher risk of having sex, but those who asked for a sext were nearly 10 times more likely and those who were sent a sex were 5.3 times more likely to send one themselves. And students who sent sexts were the most likely to have sex in the following year.
“So basically if a parent saw his kid had asked for a sext, that in and of itself isn’t related to sexual behavior unless that kid also sent naked pictures of himself,” says Temple.
The data also showed that sending sexts, while associated with a higher chance of having sexual intercourse, was not linked to an increased incidence of risky sexual behavior, such as unprotected sex, having multiple sexual partners, or using alcohol or drugs before sex. “That was surprising but it might mean that sexting is not limited to just at-risk kids,” he says. “Sexting may be becoming part of sexual development, and therefore it involves a cross section of all adolescents.”
Temple admits that the data need to be confirmed with other studies; the reports on sexting and sex were self-reported by the students, which could affect their reliability. But the rates of sexting, along with sexual intercourse, fall in line with national surveys so are likely to be valid, he says.
If sexting is indeed part of the new normal of sexual development, then it could be a sign of those who are more ready for sexual activity or more receptive to it, he says. Studies show that up to a third of adolescents are involved in sexting, and they may be good candidates for education about safe sex and the dangers of unprotected sex. “If sexting does predate sex, then it’s of public health importance. It becomes a marker of sexual activity and it could be a good opportunity to talk to them about safe sex prior to them having sex and preventing early sexual debut and risky sexual behavior,” he says.
Following a wave of backlash.
Police in Virginia have backed away from a controversial plan to take sexually explicit photos of a 17-year-old to corroborate the images with evidence in a sexting case, the Associated Press reports.
The teen in question faces two felony charges in juvenile court for manufacturing and distributing child pornography after exchanging sexts with his then-15-year-old girlfriend. Police and prosecutors received a warrant to take the sexually explicit photos to compare against photos he allegedly sent.
But amid a wave of backlash, Manassas Police Lt. Brian Larkin told the AP Thursday that his department would not move forward with the plan and will let the search warrant expire. He did not give a specific reason.
A day earlier, the Manassas Police Department issued a statement saying it was not their policy to “authorize invasive search procedures of suspects in cases of this nature.” That statement did not elaborate on whether the images would be taken.
For evidence in a sexting investigation
Local police have issued a search warrant for explicit photos of a Virginia teenager accused of sexting his former girlfriend, lawyers for the teen said.
The Manassas City Police and Prince William County prosecutor are seeking pictures of the teen’s genitals, lawyer Jessica H. Foster told the Washington Post.
The teen faces two felony charges for manufacturing and distributing child pornography after exchanging sexts with his then-15-year-old girlfriend, whose mother filed the initial complaint with authorities. The case was dismissed in juvenile court in June, because prosecutors neglected to certify the teen’s juvenile status, the Post reports, but new charges were filed by the police.
The teen’s aunt told NBC Washington last week that local officers have already taken photos of her nephew’s genitals, but now want photos of an erection, too, to compare with evidence. The police reportedly told the teen that, if necessary, they would take him to a hospital for an injection that induces an erection.
“The prosecutor’s job is to seek justice,” Foster told the Post. “What is just about this? How does this advance the interest of the Commonwealth?”
If charged, the teen could face incarceration and would be forced to register as a sex offender.
Foster added, “I don’t mind trying the case. My goal is to stop the search warrant. I don’t want him to go through that. Taking him down to the hospital so he can get an erection in front of all those cops, that’s traumatizing.”
Carlos Flores Laboy, the teen’s appointed guardian ad litem told the Post that he found authorities’ desire to create more sexually explicit photos of a teenager, in the name of an investigation into child pornography allegations, both ironic and troubling.
“They’re using a statute that was designed to protect children from being exploited in a sexual manner to take a picture of this young man in a sexually explicit manner, said Flores Laboy. “The irony is incredible.”
He added, “As a parent myself, I was floored. It’s child abuse. We’re wasting thousands of dollars and resources and man hours on a sexting case. That’s what we’re doing.”
Calls to the Manassas City Police Department and the Prince William County prosecutor’s office were not immediately returned to TIME.
Detectives say man sent explicit messages to women as son died in car
On Thursday a judge denied bail to Justin Ross Harris, a man whose 22-month-old son died after being left in his hot car, after finding probable cause to charge him with felony murder and child cruelty. Harris, of Cobb County, Georgia, has pleaded not guilty.
At the hearing, detectives shared incriminating evidence that had been found on Harris’ computer, tablet and smartphone. Lead investigator Phil Stoddard testified that Harris had been sending explicit text messages to six different women through an app called Kik — including a picture of his erect penis to a 16-year-old girl — while his son Cooper Harris was trapped in the car for hours and subsequently died. According to Stoddard, Harris may also be charged with sexual exploitation of a minor.
Detectives also found evidence on Harris’ computer that he had been reading articles on a Reddit page called “child-free”— a thread for people who do not have or want children — in the months leading up to the incident. Harris had also twice watched a public-service-announcement video that dramatized the results of leaving an animal in a hot car. The last time it was watched was only five days before his son died on June 18. Detectives say that Internet searches also revealed Harris was looking for tips on how to survive in prison.
Harris’ wife Leanna explained to police that they had watched the video after she saw a public-service announcement reminding parents not to leave children in cars, CNN reported.
During the hearing, detectives also claimed that Harris was exhibiting strange behavior after he had been interrogated. In the interview room, his wife asked him what he told police. “And she looks at him, and she’s like, ‘Well, did you say too much?’” Stoddard testified.
The Cobb County medical examiner’s office has said that Cooper’s cause of death was “consistent with hyperthermia and the investigative information suggests the manner of death is homicide.”
Cooper’s funeral was held in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Saturday.
A new study reveals that a far greater percentage of teens are sending explicit photos and texts at younger ages than previously thought. Here are tips for talking to your child about the consequences
If you’re a mom or dad and you learn that your child is sexting, that’s bound to set off alarms. But a new study reveals that the practice is quite common among teenagers, most of whom who think it’s no big deal. And that sets up an interesting dynamic in terms of how parents should handle the situation.
Researchers from Drexel University surveyed college students, asking them if they had ever sent or received “sexually explicit text messages or images” when they were under age 18. Fifty-four percent said yes—almost all of it in the context of a romantic relationship or as a means of flirting.
“We were shocked by the prevalence and the frequency of sexting among minors,” says David DeMatteo, an associate professor of psychology and law at Drexel and one of the study’s authors. He notes that previous studies have indicated the pervasiveness of sexting was much lower—around 20%.
DeMatteo believes that participants in the study may have been more honest because they were allowed to remain anonymous and were reporting on past behavior.
What’s more, while the authors defined sexting as sending or receiving “sexually explicit text messages with or without photographic images,” they allowed participants to define what “sexually explicit” meant to them. “A 13-year-old might consider a sext to be ‘I think your body is hot,’” DeMatteo explains. “Other messages were likely less gray, talking about sexual desire or activities and everything in between.”
Participants acknowledged sexting as young as 13, but the vast majority were 16 and 17 when they sexted. And very few reported negative consequences from their actions. Only 8%, for instance, said they endured humiliation or a tarnished reputation. To be sure, sexting can be used to exploit or intimidate—and there have been cases were teens have committed suicide as a result of such cyber-bullying. But fewer than 1% of respondents in the Drexel study reported being bullied as a result of sexting.
“We were struck by how many of those surveyed seem to think of sexting as a normal, standard way of interacting with their peers,” DeMatteo says.
All of which can make things tricky for parents, most of whom probably wish they simply didn’t have to deal with such an uncomfortable topic. Yet they should—ideally, as soon as a kid gets his or her first cellphone.
So, what do you say?
For younger teens, set a bright line. Tell them sexting is off limits—period. (For some families, this might be a real challenge, as indicated by another new study on the link between sexting and sex among middle schoolers.) Most of the time, those who are in middle school or even in ninth or 10th grade don’t have the experience to comprehend the impact that sexting can have.
“They do not understand how powerful it is—how other people might be aroused by seeing a provocative photo of them,” says Barbara Greenberg, a clinical psychologist in Fairfield County, Conn., with a focus on adolescents and families.
When it comes to older teens, however, recognize that sexting is often just a digital form of flirting. “It is the 2014 version of teens experimenting with their sexuality,” Greenberg says. “They are testing their level of appeal—something we have been doing for centuries.”
That said, you should make clear to your older kids that dangers exist. Remind them that anything they do online leaves a permanent record—one that may come back to haunt them later. What may seem funny or flirtatious in the moment may not feel the same way a few months down the road.
Remind them, too, that once they hit the send button, their words and images are out of their control. They can’t be confident that any sext will stay with the intended recipient. The Drexel study found that 26% of respondents reported that, as a minor, they had forwarded or shared a sext they’d received with a good friend, and 3% reported sharing it with a mere acquaintance.
It’s also important to tell your older kids that not all sexting is equal. If they’re going to insist on engaging in this activity, they should at least reserve their most explicit messages for those with whom they’re in a real relationship. Casual sexting, just like casual sex, is not a good idea.
Finally, be sure to tell your kids—younger or older—that sexting can have serious legal ramifications.
Most states do not have laws that govern sexting, so if a minor sends a nude or sexually explicit image to another minor, he or she can be charged under child pornography laws. (The Drexel study found that girls, in particular, are likely to sext photographs.) These statues typically carry severe punishments, including jail time and having to register as a sex offender. In the Drexel study, nearly two-thirds of respondents were not aware of this risk.
But many of those who were aware of the potential legal consequences modified their behavior. Indeed, one of the study’s central findings is that only 42% of those who were familiar with this threat had sexted as a minor, compared with 61% of their peers who weren’t clued in to the legal implications.
“Young people need to be educated about the consequences of sexting—legal, social and psychological,” DeMatteo says. “The more they hear the message, the more likely it will be to sink in.”
Study finds male adolescents label girls who sext and girls who don't
If you’re asking an adolescent boy, a teenage girl is “insecure” or “slutty” if she sexts and “stuck up” or “a prude” if she doesn’t.
A study published on Jun. 6 in the Journal of Children and Media, appropriately titled “Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t … If You’re a Girl,” found that although both male and female adolescents send sexts, teenage girls’ behavior is labeled regardless of whether they sext or not. The discovery was made after University of Michigan researchers Julia Lippman and Scott Campbell distributed open-ended questonnaires to 51 adolescents aged 12-18 inquiring about participants’ sexting practices and thoughts on their peers who engage in sexting.
The study defined sexting as “the transmission via electronic means of sexually provocative or explicit images or videos featuring someone known to the sender and/or receiver.”
“The most striking ﬁnding with regard to gender was the extent to which girls, but not boys, were judged for their sexting practices,” the study says. “According to these accounts, then, girls who send sexts are—to use some of our male participants’ words—crazy, insecure, attention-seeking sluts with poor judgment.”
Lippman and Campbell ultimately sorted judgments on girls’ sexting practices into three groups: negative opinions of girls who sext, negative opinions of girls who don’t sext, and opinions that only certain “types” of girls sext.
Most participants who made negative judgments were male, the study says. One 18-year-old male participant wrote: “This is common only for girls with ‘slut’ reputations. They do it to attract attention … [it’s inappropriate, but] it’s the fault of the girl who sent them. That she is being seen like that.”
The researchers emphasized that the boys were quick to pass negative judgments on girls who sext, failing to understand that a variety of factors, such as the boys themselves, influence a teenage girl’s decision of whether to sext or not. Girls, on the other hand, explained that they are sometimes pressured into sexting. A 16-year-old wrote: “My boyfriend or someone I really liked asked for them. And I felt like if I didn’t do it, they wouldn’t continue to talk to me.”
Hopefully he washed his hands afterwards
The doctors on Grey’s Anatomy have been involved in a lot of questionable behavior in their fictional hospital’s on-call room and supply closets, but even Shonda Rimes could not have envisioned the accusations this Seattle doctor faces.
47-year-old Arthur K. Zilberstein, a Seattle-based anesthesiologist, had his license suspended for allegedly sending explicit selfies and swapping racy text messages during surgeries. While his hands should have been monitoring patients at their most vulnerable moment, instead he was spending his time hitting send on some sexts, approximately 250 times between April and August of last year.
The findings, released Monday by the Washington State Department of Health, reveal that Zilberstein was sexting during all kinds of procedures, including Cesarean deliveries, pediatric appendectomies, epidurals, tubal ligations and one notable cardiac-probe insertion, during which he allegedly exchanged 26 text messages “including explicit sexual comments,” according to the official statement of charges. During one stomach surgery, Zilberstein reportedly exchanged 45 texts “with sexual innuendo” in less than an hour and a half and another time, he interrupted his sext stream to allegedly text: “I’m hella busy with C sections.”
Washington state health authorities said that Zilberstein compromised patient safety with his “preoccupation with sexual matters,” allegedly sent risqué selfies to a patient while wearing his hospital badge and scrubs and is accused of looking at private medical records for his own sexual gratification, having sexual rendezvous at work and issuing at least 29 unauthorized prescriptions. McDreamy he is not.
Zilberstein is not permitted to practice medicine in Washington until the charges are resolved.
[Via The Washington Post]